60-80% of the immune system is in the gut, and improving digestion is step one to calming systemic inflammation and supporting optimal health. Incorporating a few simple practices can support healthy digestion.
Step 1: First thing’s first, get into a calm state before eating. Stress disrupts digestion and elimination because it activates the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system (SNS). Nicknamed the “fight or flight” nervous system, the SNS engages to help our body deal with stress. This is beneficial if we are dealing with a stressor, but can be a problem when our bodies need to digest a meal. Activation of the SNS while eating often disrupts digestion and can result in digestive symptoms like bloating, reflux diarrhea or constipation. The SNS is easily triggered by negative emotions, mental stress, chemicals found in processed foods, and some medical drugs. The PNS (parasympathetic nervous system), nicknamed the “digest and repair” nervous system is the antagonist to the SNS. This is what you want to stimulate before eating because activation of the PNS supports all of the critical phases of digestion! We can activate the PNS with a peaceful environment, the smell or taste of food we desire, relaxing music, and loving relationships. Take a few deep breaths before your meal and try to relax.
Step 2: Support your stomach acid. Your stomach’s hydrochloric acid (HCL) sterilizes food and helps your body break down and assimilate nutrients. HCl concentrations tend to decline as we age so many people do not have enough HCL for optimal digestion; therefore, it’s important to stimulate. 10 to 15 minutes before eating, drink a few tablespoons of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar in an ounce or two of water, eat a few tablespoons of raw, fermented vegetables, or try digestive bitters. Also avoid drinking too much water during your meal because it dilutes stomach acid. Stomach acid is the key to digesting and breaking down protein so this is key to maintaining a youthful appearance inside and out.
Step 3: Take a probiotic. Probiotics are the good bacteria in our intestines that support our immune system and support digestion. They also can help to support a healthy inflammatory response and good gut bacteria have been associated with lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and even dementia. Probiotics also help our body break down food we cannot digest and aid in the extraction of nutrients from food. Eating homemade cultured vegetables is the best way to get these good bugs but for most people taking a high quality probiotic is a great answer. We are offering a 10% discount on our most popular, high potency probiotic through August 26th if you mention this blog. You can call at 443-433-5540 or email your order to [email protected]
Step 4: Support biliary function. Bile helps digest fat. It is made by your liver, and stored and released by your gallbladder. Adding beets, radishes, leeks, or asparagus to your diet will support healthy gallbladder function, or try digestive bitters. Including good quality fats in the diet is also key to supporting gall bladder function. Olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, avocadoes, fatty fish and animal fat from grass fed cows all support healthy gall bladder function. Eating a super low fat diet or eating unhealthy fats from fried foods or trans fats can negatively impact gall bladder health.
Step 5: Don’t forget to chew. Chewing is the first phase of digestion. The mechanical action of chewing along with the enzymes contained in saliva play an important role in preparing food for its next phase of digestion in the stomach. If large particles of food enter your stomach, they may remain undigested when entering your intestines, and can cause digestive discomfort and contribute to food allergies. The more thoroughly you chew, the easier the passage through your intestines, plus your body will absorb more nutrients. Generally the recommendation is to chew each bite at least 20 times before swallowing. Chewing your food more thoroughly also helps to prevent overeating because your stomach actually has time to communicate to your brain when it has had enough.
Digestive disorders are commonplace in today’s society, and these tips are a great place to start. If you still experience digestive problems after putting these steps into practice for a few weeks, consider making an appointment with me, or another health care provider to troubleshoot your individual needs.
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